COVID-19 pass no single guarantee of global tourism restart – IATA

Richmond Mercurio (The Philippine Star) - April 14, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said its international COVID-19 travel pass would not be the single magic bullet to restart international travel, but it nonetheless welcomed the Philippines’ intent to adopt it in order to resume quarantine-free travel.

The IATA Travel Pass, which is currently being used by about 25 airlines on a trial basis, is a tool that can store travel health credentials for COVID-19 tests results or vaccination certification.

Conrad Clifford, IATA regional vice president for Asia Pacific, told The STAR a trial for the Philippines “will be announced in due course.”

The Department of Tourism (DOT) said last week it is considering the use of the IATA Travel Pass.

“We look forward to engaging them (the DOT) on this,” Clifford said.

Clifford, however, said the IATA Travel Pass alone is not the magic bullet for restarting travel if governments do not remove restrictions such as quarantine.

“Hence the priority is still for governments, including the Philippines, to establish a roadmap toward reopening borders and relaxing travel restrictions once it is safe to do so, and to share this roadmap with the industry so as to allow airlines to plan ahead and provide the necessary connectivity,” he said.

“As to the requirements for entry into a country, that is determined by that country’s national regulations and laws,” Clifford said.

The IATA official said they are in discussions with governments globally on how the IATA Travel Pass can help them verify travel credentials digitally instead of a paper process when they are ready to open borders to international travel.

“For governments to reopen international borders without quarantine and restart aviation, they need to be confident that they are mitigating the risk of importing COVID-19 and have confidence in a passenger’s declared COVID-19 status, be it testing or vaccination. The IATA Travel Pass can facilitate that,” Clifford said.

Aside to governments, the IATA Travel Pass is also expected to bring benefits to both airlines and travelers.

When travel demand picks up from the low numbers, which the airlines are currently seeing, Clifford said an efficient means is needed to ensure that passengers’ health credentials meet destination requirements.

As for travelers, it will help them easily and securely manage their travel in line with government requirements for COVID-19 tests or vaccines.

“Implementing the IATA Travel Pass or any other tool will require a whole of government approach as different parties will need to be involved – health, immigration, tourism, and aviation, among others,” Clifford said.

The Air Carriers Association of the Philippines (ACAP) said they support the IATA initiative which will help reopen international aviation and re-establish air connectivity.

“Since this is a tool that will help bring testing and vaccination in a simple and harmonized standard for travel credentials needed to travel internationally, it will boost the confidence of the riding public,” ACAP executive director and vice chairman Roberto Lim told The STAR.

“We understand IATA pass is built to be interoperable with other apps. Hopefully we can also achieve a simple efficient and harmonized standard for domestic travel instead of the existing fragmented approach.

Combined losses of ACAP members consisting of Philippines Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and AirAsia Philippines reached P65 billion last year as passenger traffic plummeted due to travel restrictions brought about by the pandemic.

IATA reported that Asia-Pacific airlines’ February traffic plunged by more than 95 percent compared to February 2019 as travel restrictions tightened due to continuing concerns over new coronavirus variants.

The region continued to suffer from the steepest traffic declines for an eighth consecutive month, according to IATA.

“Two key components for an efficient restart of travel need to be urgently progressed. The first is the development of global standards for digital COVID-19 test and/or vaccination certificates. The second is government agreement to accept certificates digitally,” IATA director general Willie Walsh said in a statement last week.

“Paper processes will not be sustainable when travel ramps up. The IATA Travel Pass app was developed precisely in anticipation of this need to manage health credentials digitally,” he said.

Clifford said that the IATA Travel Pass is not a vaccine passport, but is a tool to help manage travel health credentials, be it COVID-19 tests or vaccination.

Rep. Ronnie Ong of party-list Ang Probinsiyano in December last year filed House Bill 8280 which seeks to pave the way for vaccine passports in the country.

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